Like, I presume, most of us, I know little about Romania cuisine. But a fabulous new cookery book, published next month, has shown me that Romania is a true cultural melting pot. Its character and dishes are rooted in the culture at the crossroads of eastern and western traditions, from Greek, Turkish and Slavic in the south and east, to Austrian, Hungarian and Saxon in the north and west.
Carpathia is the first book by Romanian food writer Irina Georgescu. She aims to introduce readers to her country’s unique, delicious cuisine. It’s a culinary journey with stunning photography by Jamie Orlando Smith, and recipes offering a real taste of the history, traditions and food of the country.
A cornucopia of small plates, starters, salads, unusual breads, traditional broths, main courses and desserts, each recipe has an interesting introduction by Irina. She champions the ingredients at the heart of Romanian cooking: apples, classic pickles, preserves, compotes and drinks. A real mix of so many cultures, you will find influences from so many places.
Here are a couple of Irina’s recipes that I thought you’d like. The first is a delicious salad that interestingly puts tarragon with smoked mackerel with great success. I’ve recently enjoyed tarragon paired with mushroom… I think it might be my ‘herb of the year’!
And slightly early, I know, but this fabulous recipe for an unusual brioche baked cheesecake will be the star of your Easter feast – it’s a ‘proper’ cheesecake and will go down a storm.
Carpathia is published 17 March by Frances Lincoln. At £22 for a really nice hardback, it’s a great gift (if you can bear to part with it) and sure to become a firm favourite. What’s more, Irina will be doing a demonstration of recipes from Carpathia at the Surrey Food Festival on Sunday 26 April at 1.30, so you can meet her in person and have her sign your copy.
Salată de peşte (Smoked mackerel salad with tarragon and mayo) Serves 2
This is one of the first dishes I ever made on my own. My mum trusted me with it completely, mainly because it was an assembling job rather than proper cooking. But I took it as a compliment. Mayo is time-consuming to whisk by hand, so she was more than happy to park me in the kitchen with something useful to do. The tarragon is my own ‘adult’ addition – its subtle aniseed flavour goes so well with fish.
For the mayo:
230ml (8fl oz) sunflower oil
20ml (.fl oz) rapeseed oil
2 egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mackerel salad:
250g (9oz) smoked mackerel
1 large onion (half finely diced or grated; half finely sliced)
3 gherkins, diced and drained on kitchen towel
1 bunch of tarragon, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the mayo, combine the oils in a jug. Place the egg yolks into a bowl and add the oil a little at a time, whisking continuously and incorporating each addition fully before adding more oil. Do this with an electric whisk or by hand if you like a good challenge! Once all the oil has been added, the mixture should have formed a smooth, shiny, thick mayo. Add the lemon juice, mustard and seasoning and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the mackerel salad, carefully shred the mackerel, removing the skin, and place into a large bowl. Mix in all the onion and gherkins, making sure they are evenly distributed. Add just enough mayo to bind everything together then sprinkle over the tarragon. Serve with more mayo on the side.
Pască (Brioche baked cheesecake) Serves 6
This cheesecake is our equivalent of the Easter chocolate eggs and it’s baked only for this occasion. Baskets of food, with Cozonac (walnut and rum celebration bread), painted eggs and Pască are lined-up at church on the eve of Easter Sunday for the priest’s blessing during the sunrise service. They are then taken home and shared with loved ones in a delicious feast, ending the fasting period. For me, breathing in the scent of this cake is a moment of happiness. Buttery and sweet, it is a powerful reminder of the meaning of Easter, when we rejoice and indulge in celebrations.
For the brioche:
300g (11oz) strong white bread flour
30ml (1fl oz) milk, at room temperature
7g (.oz) fast-action dried yeast
1 tbsp caster sugar
150g (5oz) butter, diced and softened
For the filling:
200g (7oz) fresh ricotta or 100g (3.oz) shop-bought ricotta mixed with 100g (3.oz) creme fraiche
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
100g (3.oz) sultanas
15ml (.fl oz) orange liqueur or rum (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp milk
Zest of 1 orange
10g (.oz) diced butter
To make the brioche dough, put the flour, milk, yeast and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium speed until combined, then add the eggs one by one and mix again. When the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl, start adding the butter, dice by dice, ensuring that each addition is well incorporated. Cover and leave to rise for 1½–2 hours in a warm place, at around 21–22°C (70–72°F). Refrigerate for 2–3 hours or overnight and it will be ready to roll.
To make the filling, thoroughly combine all the ingredients together to form a smooth mixture.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Grease a 25cm (10in) pastry ring or springform tin with the base removed. Roll one half of the dough to a circle slightly larger than the ring or tin, and place it onto a non-stick baking tray. Place the ring or tin on top of the pastry (you will trim the edges later).
Divide the remaining half of the dough into 2 pieces. Roll into two long ropes, measuring 85–90cm (33.–35.in). Loosely twist the dough ropes together, leaving room for the dough to expand. Place
inside the ring or tin, creating a beautiful border around the sides. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Brush the border with the egg wash, then pour in the filling. Scatter the orange zest on top and dot with the diced butter. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the filling is soft and wobbly in the middle. If the dough becomes too dark, cover with foil. Cool on a wire rack trim around the pastry ring and then carefully remove it. Serve for dessert or as a treat for breakfast. Scatter any leftover sultanas on top.